Still from All is True

Film Review: All is True

The imagining of Shakespeare’s retirement years, written by Ben Elton.

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Long-time Shakespearean enthusiasts Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh perform lead roles in the latest Sony Classics film All is True. Each in their own right are seasoned performers in all things Shakespeare.

The last time the two starred opposite each other was onstage at the Garrick Theatre in The Winter’s Tale, a live theatre production performed in London’s West End in late 2015. In All is True, Kenneth Branagh stars as Shakespeare and Judi Dench as his wife, Anne Hathaway.

The year is 1613 and at age 49, after thirty years of marriage and several years away from the family home in London, Shakespeare returns to Stratford. The time abroad has made him a stranger in his own home; accordingly, he must both uncover and reconcile long simmering family resentments.

Perhaps the most pertinent of these matters is the death of his son Hamnet, who Shakespeare never took time out to mourn until now; the death of his male heir and coming to terms with it remains a central narrative throughout the whole film. Another central component of the film, as a subplot entwined with mourning the death of Hamnet, is to unravel the mixed feelings of contempt and love from his daughter Judith, aptly played by Kathryn Wilder.

Other matters he must grapple with are insecurities he has from his upbringing in Stratford, reconnecting with his wife Anne and, successfully handle a scandal involving his other daughter, Susanna. Throughout the film Shakespeare is addressing these issues, yet one still gets the feeling he lives in his own world separate from theirs.

The film is directed by Kenneth Branagh and written by Ben Elton. Although the film has been written today, it feels like a play written in Shakespeare’s era; it is full of tragedy, has multiple subplots and is slow to develop.

One can imagine it being performed onstage as it is dialogue rather than action heavy and the changing of scenes throughout the film feels like the closing of each act in a play. The cast is stellar and one would be forgiven for thinking the film was an accurate portrayal of his final years.

If not for the story watch it for the cast, Judi is so befitting of roles set in the Shakespeare era that she took out the Best Supporting Actress Award with only eight minutes of on-screen time as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love (1998); equally accomplished Kenneth Branagh has received three Academy Award Nominations for his contributions in Shakespeare productions the past three decades.

All is True opens on May 9th.

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Two giants of the Shakespearean stage, tell the story of Shakespeare's last years 3.5 stars

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